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How to cook the perfect Easter ham

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There's nothing more festive than a succulent cooked ham. On Easter Sunday, a baked hog will be featured at the center of many American dinner tables, so why not mark the occasion with an extra special recipe. Follow these simple steps to ensure that this year's Easter celebration will be a memorable one.

Selecting the right ham
Choosing the right meat is crucial to cooking a great ham, explains Libbie Summers, chef and author of "The Whole Hog Cookbook."

"A wonderful leg from a local farmer is always best," she says. "If you don't have access to locally farmed pigs, no need to worry, you can also get a wonderful ham at your local supermarket. I've found one of the best friendships you can ever make is one with your local butcher."

If you can't source fresh ham, it's likely that you'll be working with frozen meat. While this ham can still be delicious, you'll need to take proper care to ensure that you maintain its full flavor. With ham, more than many other meats, the thawing process can have a great impact on its taste and texture, so you'll need to give it a full 24 to 48 hours to slow-thaw in the fridge before cooking.

Prep 
Once your meat has thawed completely, you can begin prepping it for cooking. Remove the skin and trim about a quarter-inch of excess fat from the surface of the ham using a carving knife. You can then stud the meat with cloves by pressing them into the meat. If you're cooking a fresh, uncured ham, Libbie recommends scoring the outside and rubbing it with a high-quality tamari soy sauce before baking.

Bake
Always allow your ham to stand at room temperature for about one to two hours before cooking to ensure that it cooks evenly throughout. Then place the meat in a shallow roasting pan, (cut side down) and cover the top with a foil tent.

All too often, cooks make the mistake of baking the meat too high, which can leave it dry and bland.

"A ham should be cooked low and slow," Libby says. "I bake, covered, in a 325-degree oven for 22 to 26 minutes a pound or until the internal temperature reaches 140 to 150 degrees."

As it bakes, refrain from basting the ham with its own juices, as the salty taste can overpower the flavor of the meat. If you prefer a sweet crunchy coating on your ham, Libby recommends increasing the oven temperature to 400 degrees for the final 15 minutes of baking time. To glaze the meat, uncover the ham and rub a mixture of equal parts dark brown sugar and dry mustard on the outside of the ham. Once it has finished cooking, allow the ham to stand for 15 to 30 minutes before serving.